Library Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Library Hall, on Fifth Street near Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, in February 1859. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Library Company of Philadelphia was established in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin as the first lending library in the present-day United States. At the time, free municipally-supported libraries were still more than a century in the future, but Franklin’s library functioned as a sort of quasi-public library, making books available to subscribing members. These types of subscription libraries would become common in America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the Library Company of Philadelphia served as a model for many of these.

During its early years, the library did not have a permanent home. Instead, it was successively located in several different rented spaces, including the second floor of Carpenters’ Hall, which was occupied by the library starting in 1773. However, the library wanted a building of its own, a move that Franklin himself encouraged. So, in 1789 the library solicited designs for a new building, stipulating that it should measure 70 feet by 48 feet, and be two stories in height. The winning entry came from a rather unlikely source in William Thornton, a physician who had no architectural training and had never before designed a building. This would not be the only such competition that he would win, though. Four years later, George Washington selected his design for the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

The new building, known as Library Hall, was built here on the east side of Fifth Street, a little south of Chestnut Street. This was an important location, as it was less than a block away from both Independence Hall, where the state legislature met, and Congress Hall, which would serve as the national capitol from 1790 to 1800. Construction began on Library Hall in 1789, and the cornerstone was laid on August 31. The stone featured an inscription written by Benjamin Franklin, who was still alive more than 50 years after he established the library. However, he would not live to see the building completed; he died on April 17, 1790, and the library moved into it around October. Two years later, the library added a marble statue of Franklin, which was installed in the niche above the front entrance.

The building’s completion occurred around the same time that the national government returned to Philadelphia, after a seven-year absence. The city would remain the capital for the next ten years, before the government moved to Washington. At the time, there was no Library of Congress, so the Library Company of Philadelphia served as the de facto national library for members of Congress during these formative years in the country’s history.

Also during this time, the library continued to expand its collections. In 1792 it absorbed the nearby Loganian Library, with its nearly 4,000 volumes. Although just completed, the new building here on Fifth Street was already too small, requiring a new wing to the rear that opened in 1794. This growth would continue into the 19th century, through a variety of bequests and purchases from private collections. By 1851, the library had around 60,000 volumes, making it the second-largest in the United States, behind only Harvard’s library.

As a result, the library was again in need of more space. A solution to this problem came in 1869, when Dr. James Rush left the library nearly $1 million in his will, for the purpose of constructing a new building. However, it came with stipulations, most significantly that it had to be located at the corner of Broad and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. This was far removed from the city center, and from the homes of most of the library’s patrons, so the gift caused considerable controversy. By a very narrow margin, library members ultimately voted to accept it, and the building—known as the Ridgway Library—was completed there in 1878. Because of its remoteness, though, the building was used primarily for storage and for housing rare books.

Around the same time that the Ridgway Library was completed, the Library Company began constructing a new downtown building. With a more convenient, central location, this would serve primarily as a lending library, and its collection focused on modern works. It opened in 1880 at the corner of Juniper and Locust Streets, replacing this Fifth Street building as the Library Company’s downtown facility. The old building was then sold, and it was demolished in the late 1880s to make way for an addition to the adjacent Drexel Building.

The Drexel Building was demolished in the 1950s as part of the development of the Independence National Historical Park. This project involved demolishing entire blocks in the area adjacent to Independence Hall, leaving only the most historically-significant buildings as part of the park. Most of this cleared land then became open space, but here on Fifth Street the Drexel Building was replaced by a replica of the old Library Hall. This building was completed in 1959 as the home of the American Philosophical Society.

Today, there is little evidence of the changes that have occurred here since the first photo was taken in 1859. Despite being barely 60 years old, the new building has the appearance of being from the 18th century, and it fits in well with the nearby historic buildings. There are hardly any differences between its exterior and that of its predecessor, and it even has a replica of the Franklin statue in the niche above the door. In the meantime, the original statue is probably the only surviving object from the first photo. The marble is now badly weathered, but it is on display inside the current home of the Library Company of Philadelphia, at 1314 Locust Street.

East India Marine Hall, Salem, Mass

East India Marine Hall on Essex Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is one of the oldest museums in the United States, with a complex lineage that traces back to 1799, with the formation of the East India Marine Society. At the time, Salem was one of the most prosperous seaports in the country, with merchants who were among the first Americans to trade with southeast Asia. The society was established by local captains with several goals, including sharing navigational information, providing aid to families of members who died, and collecting artifacts and other interesting objects from the East Indies. Membership was limited to captains and supercargoes of Salem vessels who had sailed beyond either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn.

The organization moved into its first permanent home in 1825 with the completion of East India Marine Hall, shown here in these two photos. The building was formally dedicated on October 14 of that year, in a ceremony that was attended by many noted dignitaries. These included President John Quincy Adams; Congressman and former Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield; Associate Justice Joseph Story of the U. S. Supreme Court; former Senator, Postmaster General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering; and famed navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch.

The building was designed by Boston architect Thomas Waldron Sumner, and it features a Federal-style design with a granite exterior here on the main facade, which faces Essex Street. Originally, the main entrance was located in the center of the building on the ground floor, and it was flanked by storefronts on either side. These storefronts have long since been altered, but the names of the first two commercial tenants—the Asiatic Bank and the Oriental Insurance Company—are still carved in the granite above the ground floor. The East India Marine Society itself was located on the second floor, which consisted of a large open hall.

Despite the grand celebration for the completion of this building, though, Salem was already in decline as a seaport. Both the Embargo Act of 1807 and the subsequent War of 1812 had crippled Salem’s shipping, and it never fully recovered, with much of the international trade shifting to other northeastern ports, such as Boston and New York. Elsewhere in New England, the region’s economy was transitioning from trade to manufacturing, and Salem’s growth had stagnated by the mid-19th century, even as nearby industrial cities such as Lowell experienced rapid increases in population.

Because of this, the East India Marine Society faced dwindling membership, and by the 1850s it began considering selling objects from its collections in order to remain financially viable. However, prominent London financier George Peabody—a native of the neighboring town of Peabody—intervened, and in 1867 he established a $140,000 trust fund. The museum was then reorganized as the Peabody Academy of Science, for the “Promotion of Science and Useful Knowledge in the County of Essex.” As part of this, the natural history collections of the Essex Institute, which had been established in Salem in 1848, were transferred to the Peabody. In exchange, the Essex Institute received the Peabody’s history collections.

The Peabody Academy of Science continued to use the East India Marine Hall, but over the years it made some significant alterations to the building. In the mid-1880s the museum added a wing, known as Academy Hall, to the southeast corner of the original building. It stands in the distance on the left side of the first photo, and the sign for it is visible just beneath the awning. Then, in 1904 the storefronts were removed and replaced with museum exhibit rooms, and around this time the original front entrance was also closed. A new one-story entryway was then built on the right side of the building, as shown in the first photo. This photo also shows a large anchor in front of the building. It was made sometime around the turn of the 19th century, and it was donated to the museum by the United States Navy in 1906.

In 1915, around the same time that the first photo was taken, the Peabody Academy of Science was renamed the Peabody Museum of Salem. Throughout the 20th century, the museum continued to expand with more additions, reaching as far back as Charter Street on the other side of the block. From here on Essex Street, probably the most visible change was the addition of a large Brutalist-style wing on the left side of the original building, which was completed in 1976.

Then, in 1992 the Peabody Museum of Salem merged with the Essex Institute, forming the Peabody Essex Museum. Since then, its facility has grown even more, with new wings that were completed in 2003 and 2019. This most recent addition, which opened the same year that the second photo was taken, was built on the right side of this scene. It involved the demolition of the old 1904 entryway from the first photo, and now the original East India Marine Hall is almost completely surrounded by newer buildings. However, the main facade has remained largely unchanged throughout this time, and it remains an important landmark in downtown Salem nearly two centuries after its completion.

Masonic Temple, Springfield, Mass

The Masonic Temple on State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2019:

The first Masonic organization in Springfield was the Hampden Lodge, which was established in 1817. The lodge originally met at the Hampden Coffee House on Court Square, and throughout most of the 19th century Springfield’s Freemasons met in a succession of rented quarters in the downtown area. However, in 1893 they moved into a building of their own, at the corner of Main and State Streets. This was used for the first few decades of the 20th century, but by the early 1920s the Freemasons were looking to construct a new building, located on this site further up State Street, opposite the Armory.

The new Masonic Temple was designed by local architects Edward McClintock and Charles Craig, both of whom were Freemasons, and it featured a Classical Revival-style design with an exterior of Indiana limestone. The architects also borrowed from ancient Egyptian and Assyrian designs, which was done, according to a contemporary article in the Springfield Republican, in order to “symbolically link the mythology of the past to the reality of the present and represent the earliest beginnings of Freemasonry.” On the interior, the building included lodge rooms on the first and second floors, and the third floor consisted of a large auditorium that could seat up to 1,500 people.

Construction began in October 1923, although the cornerstone was not laid until June 24, 1924. The building was completed by early 1926, and it was formally dedicated on February 16, 1926. The ceremony was attended by a variety of state and local Masonic leaders, including Frank L. Simpson, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. After the ceremony, over 500 people gathered in the basement for a banquet, before moving upstairs to the auditorium for speeches by Simpson and other Masonic dignitaries.

The building was used by the Freemasons for far longer than any of their previous locations in Springfield, but they ultimately sold the building in 2007, amid high maintenance costs and declining membership. It was sold to a church organization and renamed the Basilica of the Holy Apostles, but the new owners faced similar financial challenges in trying to maintain and improve the building, so it was sold again just a few years later. Since then, the building has undergone a major renovation to convert it into the new home of the Springfield Conservatory of the Arts School. This work was still ongoing when the first photo was taken during the spring of 2019, but it was completed later in the year, with the building reopening in the fall of 2019.

Lenox Library, New York City

The Lenox Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York City, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene on December 20, 1913. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The modern concept of a public library in the United States began in the second half of the 19th century, and many such libraries had their origins in private libraries that were run by organizations or by wealthy benefactors. Here in New York City, these included the Astor Library and Lenox Library. Both were open to the public—with restrictions, particularly here at the Lenox Library—but they were intended primarily for researchers, and the books did not circulate. However, these two libraries formed the basis for the New York Public Library, which was established upon their merger in 1895.

The Lenox Library was the younger of the two institutions, having been established in 1870, although its founder, James Lenox, had begun collecting rare books several decades earlier. The son of wealthy merchant Robert Lenox, James inherited over a million dollars after his father’s death in 1839, along with a significant amount of undeveloped farmland in what is now the Upper East Side. He had studied law at Columbia, although he never actually practiced, instead spending much of his time collecting books and art.

For many years Lenox kept his collection in his house, which became increasingly overcrowded and disorganized. As a result, he created the Lenox Library in 1870, and that year he hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a suitable building, which would be located on Lenox-owned land here on Fifth Avenue, opposite Central Park between 70th and 71st Streets. It was one of the first major commissions for Hunt, who would go on to become one of the leading American architects of the late 19th century.

The building, shown here in the first photo, was completed in 1877. It was a combination library and art museum, featuring four reading rooms plus a painting gallery and a sculpture gallery. Admission was free of charge, but for the first ten years patrons were required to obtain tickets in advance by writing to the library, which would then send the tickets by mail. In any case, the collections here at the library would not have been of much interest to the casual reader. Because of Lenox’s focus on rare books, the library was, in many ways, more of a museum of old books than a conventional library. In addition, its holdings were far less comprehensive than most libraries, with a narrow focus on the subjects that Lenox was personally interested in.

Despite these limitations, though, the library was valuable for researchers searching for hard-to-find volumes. Perhaps the single most important book in its collection was a Gutenberg Bible, which Lenox had acquired in 1847. It was the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the United States, and it is now owned by the New York Public Library, where it is on display in the McGraw Rotunda. Other rare works included Shakespeare’s First Folio and the Bay Psalm Book, which was the first book published in the American colonies. Aside from books, the library also had important documents, including the original manuscript of George Washington’s farewell address, and its art collection featured famous paintings such as Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole, and a George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Overall, James Lenox contributed about 30,000 books to the library, which continued to grow after his death in 1880. By the 1890s, it had over 80,000 books, thanks to a number of significant donations and purchases. These additions helped to broaden the scope of the collection, making it more useful to the general public. However, the library struggled financially during the late 19th century, as did the Astor Library, and in 1895 they merged with the newly-created Tilden Trust to form the New York Public Library.

The new library subsequently moved into its present-day location at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in 1911, and the former Lenox Library was sold to industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who demolished it to build his mansion on the site. A longtime business associate of Andrew Carnegie, Frick was the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, and by the 1910s he was among the richest men in the country. In 1918, for example, the first Forbes Rich List ranked him second only to John D. Rockefeller, with a net worth of around $225 million.

Frick had purchased the library property in 1906 for $2.47 million, but he had to wait until the library had moved its collections to the new building before he could take possession of the land. He ultimately acquired it in 1912, and demolished the old library that same year. His new home was then built here over the next two years, with a Beaux-Arts exterior that was designed by Thomas Hastings, a noted architect whose firm, Carrère and Hastings, had also designed the New York Public Library. The second photo shows the house in December 1913, in the midst of the construction. The exterior was largely finished by this point, but it would take nearly a year before Frick moved into the house with his wife Adelaide and their daughter Helen.

Like James Lenox, Frick was a collector, using his vast fortune to amass a variety of artwork and furniture. Upon his death in 1919, he stipulated that his house and its contents would become a museum, although Adelaide would be allowed to live here for the rest of her life. She died in 1931, and over the next four years the house was converted into a museum, opening to the public in 1935 as the Frick Collection.

Today, despite its changes in use, the exterior of the building from this view is not significantly different than it was when the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It still houses the Frick Collection, with the museum receiving around 300,000 visitors per year. Although not as large as many of the other major art museums in New York, it features a high-quality collection of paintings and furniture, including a good variety of works by the European Old Masters. The building itself is also an important work of art in its own right, and in 2008 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its architectural significance.

Grand Staircase, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

The Grand Staircase, seen from the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, around 1902-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos show the view in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, facing west from just inside the main entrance. In the center of the scene, just beyond the columns, is the Grand Staircase. Both the Great Hall and the staircase were completed in 1902, as part of an expansion that was designed by noted architect Richard Morris Hunt. Prior to this, the museum was much smaller and set back from Fifth Avenue in Central Park. However, Hunt’s addition extended the museum eastward all the way to the street, in the process creating a Beaux-Arts masterpiece that ranks among New York’s most important architectural works of the early 20th century.

Upon completion, the museum used the Great Hall as a sculpture gallery, with a mix of ancient and modern statues on display here. There were no statues here in the central part of the room, as shown here, but there were a few in the niches in the walls, along with others along the walls of the vestibule between the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase. Some of the identifiable works here in this scene include California (1858) by Hiram Powers, located in the niche on the left side; Aqua Viva (1884) by Frank Edwin Elwell, between the first and second columns from the left; and just to the right of it a bust of Pierre Jean de Béranger (1834) by Pierre Jean David d’Angers. There is also a statue of Napoleon between the third and fourth columns, although the artist’s name is not legible from this distance.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the statues that were once displayed here in the Great Hall have since been relocated to other parts of the museum. Even the statues in the niches are gone, having been replaced by floral arrangements. The building is now substantially larger than it was in the early 20th century, but overall the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase look much the same as they did when they were completed. Aside from the lack of statuary, the only significant difference between these two photos is the information desk, which is now situated here in the center of the Great Hall, directly in front of the main entrance.

Great Hall, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (3)

The view looking south in the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, around 1907. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These photos show the same general view as the ones in an earlier post, although these were taken from the ground floor rather than the balcony. As discussed in that post, the Great Hall was completed in 1902 as part of an expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it originally served as both an entrance hall and a sculpture gallery. The main entrance to the museum is on the left side, just beyond the columns. Directly opposite the entrance, on the right side of the scene, is the Grand Staircase, which led to the original part of the museum building.

The first photo was taken a few years after this wing of the museum was completed, showing it filled with a variety of sculptures. Some of the notable works here include Struggle of the Two Natures in Man by George Grey Barnard, which was carved from 1892 to 1894 and donated to the museum two years later. It stands in the foreground on the left side of the photo, and just beyond it in the distance is Evening (1891) by Frederick Wellington Ruckstull and Bacchante and Infant Faun (1894) by Frederick William MacMonnies. Other identifiable works include Latona and Her Children, Apollo and Diana (1874) by William Henry Rinehart, located in the lower right corner, and Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (1859) by Randolph Rogers, which is partially visible on the extreme right side of the photo.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, all of these identifiable statues are still in the museum’s collections, although they are now located in or near the Charles Engelhard Court, where a number of important American sculptures are on display. There are a few sculptures here in the present-day scene of the Great Hall, with the ancient Egyptian Colossal Seated Statue of a Pharaoh in the foreground, and the ancient Greek Athena Parthenos in the distance, but otherwise the Great Hall is used primarily as an entrance hall. There is now an information desk in the center, which is largely hidden from view by the crowd in the 2019 photo, and there are ticket counters at either end of the room.